Mistaken Identities: Country - Kwame Anthony Appiah argues against a mythical, romantic view of nationhood
In the 2016 BBC Reith Lectures, philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah considers Creed, Country, Colour, and Culture. He argues that we over-emphasize scripture in our view of faith; that our concept of nationhood is usually mythical and romantic; that race is 'something we make, not something that makes us"; and that the idea of "Western" civilization is far too limiting. But, he suggests, a broader perspective on all of these offers genuine hope for the world. Recorded in London, Glasgow, Accra in his native Ghana, and New York.
**Please note: This episode is not available to download. Streaming audio is available for listening until February 3, 2017.
What makes us who we are? Is it our religion? Our nation? Our race? Our traditions? None of these things? All of them?
He explores the history of the idea, born in the 19th century, that there are peoples who are bound together by an ancient common spirit and that each of these nations is entitled to its own state. He says this idea is a mistaken one, illustrating his argument through the life story of the writer who took the pen name Italo Svevo - meaning literally Italian Swabian. He was born a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and became a citizen of the new republic of Italy, all without leaving his home city of Trieste. Appiah argues that states exist as a set of shared beliefs rather than membership of some sort of mythical and ancient group. "What binds citizens together is a commitment," he says, "to sharing the life of a modern state, united by its institutions, procedures and precepts."
This lecture was recorded in front of an audience at the University of Glasgow. The series is presented and chaired by Sue Lawley.
Kwame Anthony Appiah grew up in Ghana and in London, the son of a Ghanaian independence leader and an English mother. He's taught at some of the world's top universities, and has written extensively about ethics, honour, and cosmopolitanism. He's also a novelist, and now teaches philosophy and law at New York University.
- Is there such a thing as Western culture? Sonia Sodha reflects on Kwame Anthony Appiah's fourth Reith Lecture, Culture
- The Identity Quiz: do you know who you are?
- Find out more about Kwame Anthony Appiah and his Reith Lectures - Mistaken Identities
- Find out more about the Reith Lectures
- Kwame Anthony Appiah's website
**The producer of the Reith Lectures for the BBC is Jim Frank.
**The producer of this episode for IDEAS is Dave Redel.